Missouri Native group fights for recognition

Members of the Rolla Cherokee group display the materials they compiled for their application to become a federally recognized tribe.
Members of the Rolla Cherokee group display the materials they compiled for their application to become a federally recognized tribe.

The Rolla Southern Cherokee have spent the past 15 years preparing an application for tribal status

By Casey Bischel, AlJazeera America

ROLLA, Missouri — The paperwork for Southern Cherokee’s application to become a federally recognized Native American tribe weighed 79 pounds. Members divided the forms into three boxes, posed for a picture, and shipped them to Washington for $105, plus $12.90 for a signature upon delivery. More materials, 26 boxes of genealogies and family trees, will soon follow.

“It’s going to open some eyes,” said Steve Matthews, the group’s leader.

Fifteen years ago, members of the Southern Cherokee Indian Tribe — the group’s official name — began researching their ancestry and heritage. Finally, after years of compiling materials, in early May of this year, the group’s 484 members reached the end of the first step of the tribal recognition process.

Also called the acknowledgment process, it determines who is or isn’t a Native American tribe in the eyes of the federal government. Being granted tribal status gives a group access to federal funds, to the legal processes to obtain land and water rights, to tribal sovereignty, or self-governance, and to the right to define what indigenousness means.

Although there is no universally agreed-upon opinion about federal recognition, benefits do include an immediate financial infusion. Through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the New Tribes Program gives tribes with fewer than 1,700 members $160,000 a year for a period of three years.

If the Southern Cherokee receive federal aid, Matthews said, they would use it to address health problems within the community, and to fund heritage preservation and education. But unless they are federally recognized, they’ll never see a dime — and even under new regulations, which went into effect on June 29, it could take years before that happens.

In Missouri, there are nearly 30,000 American Indian and Alaska Natives, according to the 2010 Census. Although some belong to federal and state-recognized tribes, none of these groups are legally headquartered in Missouri. If their paperwork is approved, the Southern Cherokee Indian Tribe could become the first one. The only question is whether their story will stand up to scrutiny.

Hiding History

Traces of Missouri’s first peoples are scattered throughout the state. Osage Beach, a town on Lake of the Ozarks, was named after the Osage Indians before they were edged into Oklahoma. Chillicothe, a 10,000-person town in northwest Missouri now perhaps more famous as the home of sliced bread, was named after the Shawnee, who had their own “chillicothe,” or big town, nearby. The name of the state itself is indebted to the Missouria Indians.

Many Native groups fear fading away without federal support, but the Rolla group has held on for decades without it. Fearing persecution from the state and the bigger Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, with whom it has long-standing disagreements, the group’s ancestors would meet in secret in one another’s homes, Matthews said. Charles Wilcox, a barber and Southern Cherokee member, said that when he was young, his mother would tell him and his siblings to hide whenever someone came to the house unexpectedly. When he would ask her how much Indian heritage he and his siblings had, she would always respond, “just a little,” Wilcox said. “And she was a full-blood.”

When Wilcox and Matthews’ generation decided to take up the cause of recognition, their parents didn’t like it. Some were wary that just being a member of a tribe might mean that they would all be relocated to Oklahoma.

Guidelines and reform

The majority of the 566 tribes officially recognized in the U.S. never had to go through the recognition process. Their origins were established long ago via policy decisions, lawsuits and treaties with the government. Those who have gone through the process have often found it, as the Southern Cherokee do, monumental, overwhelming and expensive.

From 1978, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs implemented its previous standard, to this year, when the new system was put into place, there were 316 petitioners. Only 51 managed to complete the application, and just 17 were “acknowledged as an Indian tribe within the meaning of Federal law.” The other 34 were denied. Even tribes with documented historical lineages have taken decades to be acknowledged: The Mashpee Wampanoag, who greeted the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1620, waited 29 years before they were federally recognized in 2007.

The new guidelines will make it easier to obtain recognition. Under the revised criteria, only 80 percent of a group’s members have to be descendants of a historical tribe (instead of 100 percent); and only 30 percent need to maintain an active community (instead of a “predominant portion”). Tribes that have already been rejected won’t be able to re-petition. Luckily for the Southern Cherokee, the new standards will not force groups currently in the middle of the process to start over.

Not everyone is pleased about the reforms. Some politicians fear incursion from the casino industry if more petitioners are acknowledged. Then there are financial limitations: the more tribes there are, the less the federal government can assist each one. Recognized tribes also worry about diluting tribal sovereignty and the meaning of being Native. Principal Chief Bill John Baker of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, for example, worries that groups with “loose citizenship requirements” might have an easier time becoming tribes. Baker, like many tribal leaders, fears imposter groups may undermine the power and legitimacy of recognized tribes.

In evaluating candidates, the BIA uses a three-person team that includes a historian, a genealogist and an anthropologist. To be recognized, a group must satisfy seven mandatory criteria, including the tricky stipulation that petitioners show they have maintained community and political authority since 1900 to the present. For this reason, approving the Southern Cherokee in Rolla may be difficult. There are three other “Southern Cherokee” petitioners in different states, and the BIA frowns on what it calls “splinter groups.”

Differences between the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Southern Cherokee, for example, are reflected in the records they use to evaluate members — preferring certain records over others means privileging a specific interpretation of the past. For Cherokee Nation, the Dawes Rolls, which were kept from 1898 to 1914, are the most important. Signing the Rolls was necessary to receive a land allotment during a period when the federal government was attempting to break up reservations. Members of the Southern Cherokee, Matthews is proud to say, never joined the 101,000 Dawes signatories. Instead, Southern Cherokee membership is based on the Tompkins Roll, a census of Cherokee living in Oklahoma in 1867, and on the muster rolls of Stand Watie, a Civil War brigadier general who is viewed as one of their founding leaders.

Still, these records don’t clarify what makes a tribe and when exactly a new one forms.

For example, several Southern Cherokee groups claim the 1834 Treaty of New Echota, which led to the Trail of Tears, as their founding document.

The treaty was signed by Major Ridge, a minority leader in the Cherokee tribe, amid pressure from the federal government to sell Cherokee land in what is now Northwest Georgia and parts of the southeast. The treaty deeply angered Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross and his followers, who had wanted to sell the land for a better price. This led to deep divisions between the groups, and after both resettled in Oklahoma, members of the Ross Party began to attack the Ridge Party and assassinate some of its leadership. When the Civil War came, Stand Watie, a confidant of Ridge, formed a military regiment and fought for the South, which is where the Southern Cherokee get their name. After the war, Steve Matthews said, some Southern Cherokee families moved to Missouri to escape Ross Party violence.

The complexities of histories like this, and the BIA’s reluctance to acknowledge them, are why many Native people are frustrated with what they see as a narrow recognition process. “We’re not any better or worse than the federally recognized groups,” said Robert Caldwell, a member of the Choctaw-Apache in Ebarb, Louisiana, which has not been officially recognized by the federal government. “We’re just different.”

Looking ahead

The Rolla Cherokee hold meetings once a month at the Elks Lodge a little south of town. On a cold night last February only one door was unlocked. It opened into a long white hall with a disco ball and a drum set at one end, and a mounted deer head at the other.

They spend a lot of time here reviewing birth and death records to trace individual members’ lineages back to their rolls. Other records — from letters to signatures in Bibles — are scrounged from handed-down papers and official repositories. The group’s journal, which Steve Matthews kept from 1976 through 2004, will also help establish their history, but the Rolla Cherokee will try to bolster their claims with anything relevant they can find. No one knows if they have enough material.

With the first part of their application finished, raising money to send the other 26 boxes of genealogies and ancestral charts is now the biggest challenge. All that weight is expensive, but they hope to send it in a month or so.

When asked what’s driving them, Steve Matthews replied, “We couldn’t tell our kids we didn’t try.”

Pamunkey nation looks to future after gaining federal recognition

After a 30-year struggle, the Pamunkey Indian tribe is first in Virginia to earn federal status

By Jackson McMillan, Tidewater Review

Acting Chief of the Pamunkey Indian tribe Robert Gray said the tribe has its work cut out navigating the new opportunities and programs the Pamunkey people are eligible for now that they are among the more than 500 tribal nations recognized by the federal government.

“The real challenge now is figuring out what our options are,” Gray said during a phone interview. “There are so many agencies and programs it’s like a smorgasbord of programs.”

On July 2, the federal government extended recognition to the Pamunkey Indian tribe, making it the first Virginia tribe to achieve such recognition.

In the wake of the announcement, former Pamunkey Indian Chief Kevin Brown, who has helped the tribe in its 30-year quest for such recognition, tendered his resignation as chief.

“It’s been a long hard road in getting the federal recognition, and I’m passing the torch to another member,” he said, adding that it is time for someone else to take up their own cause to advance the tribe.

Under Pamunkey law, Assistant Chief Gray will take over as acting chief and perform all of the duties of the chief. Gray said the Pamunkey will elect a new chief Aug. 6.

The tribe, which has 203 members, has proven that it meets seven mandatory criteria for federal recognition and will join the 566 other federally recognized tribal nations across the country. The process included collecting historical governing documents, tracing the lineage of tribe members and proving the tribe has lived as a distinct community with its own political influence since 1900, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“This work reflects the most solemn responsibilities of the United States,” said Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in announcing the decision. “Our professional historians, anthropologists, and genealogists spent thousands of hours of staff time researching and applying our rigorous acknowledgment criteria to these petitions.”

Overcoming obstacles

The Pamunkey first applied for full federal recognition in 1982, Brown said.

Washburn’s decision was a defeat for numerous groups that had opposed the petition, including the Congressional Black Caucus as well as gaming and anti-gaming interests worried about the potential for the tribe to construct a gambling complex on the 1,200-acre Pamunkey reservation.

In January, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus voiced their opposition to federal recognition of the Pamunkey, asking Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to postpone the decision until the Justice Department investigated claims of discriminatory practices by the tribe.

The point of contention was in regard to an old tribal law that stated, “No member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe shall intermarry with any (sic) Nation except White or Indian under penalty of forfeiting their rights in Town.”

Brown said the tribe repealed the law in 2012. “We hadn’t enforced that law in generations and did away with it before it got out.” According to Brown, the common rationale for the ban is that it was rooted in Virginia’s culture of racism, which, at the time, used racial intermixture as a means to deprive Native Americans of their ancestral lands.

The Association of American Convenience Stores also expressed fears that federally acknowledged tribes will result in competition for stores already located near reservations if a tribe decided to open a similar business on tribal lands, the reason being tribes would not have to charge taxes and a store could undercut prices.

Support for a historic tribe

But many historians and ethnologists have long argued that the descendants of the most powerful tribe to confront Capt. John Smith and the first English settlers at Jamestown deserved official federal status.

“The Pamunkey retained their original lands — their ancestral lands from the time before the English arrived — and they were the only group to do so. They’ve maintained their treaties with the government — treaties that go all the way back to the English and the 1600s,” said Buck Woodard, head of the American Indian Initiative at Colonial Williamsburg.

“If you want to know how important the Pamunkey and its leaders were — just look at how the English referred to them: They called them ‘The House of Pamunkey.’ And they’re still a special group today.”

Retired Virginia Department of Historic Resources archaeologist E. Randolph Turner II makes many of the same arguments, citing the tribe’s links to such historical figures as Powhatan, Opechancanough and Pocahontas.

Brown said Gov. Terry McAuliffe called him July 2 to personally congratulate the Pamunkey on their historic achievement.

In a statement issued by the Office of the Governor, McAuliffe lauded the decision.

“I want to congratulate members of the Pamunkey tribe on their tireless efforts to ensure that they receive the federal recognition that they deserve.” The governor’s statement also said he has supported federal recognition of the Pamunkey and recently sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affair backing their efforts.

McAuliffe said he hopes the Pamunkey tribe’s achievement will help enact the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, a bipartisan bill that would grant federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi — also located in King William County — Rappahannock, Monacan, and Nansemond Indian tribes. These tribes have been recognized by the state, but not the federal government.

In a joint statement, Virginia’s U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine hailed the announcement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They are also cooperating on the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act.

“I congratulate the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on finally receiving this long-overdue federal recognition,” Warner said. “This historic milestone also reminds us of the work that remains before us to correct the injustices committed against Virginia Indian tribes. Senator Kaine and I will keep urging our colleagues in the Senate to pass our legislation to ensure that the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe also get the federal recognition that they deserve.”

Members of the King William County Board of Supervisors also commended the Pamunkey on their recognition.

“I think it’s a great victory for the tribe, which made the first contact with British settlers 400 years ago, to finally have federal recognition,” said District 2 Supervisor Travis Moskalski.

Full federal recognition now allows Pamunkey tribal members to apply for a variety of programs, such as health and housing services, as well as educational and higher-learning opportunities.

Plans for the future

Brown said there is a 90-day waiting period before tribal members can begin benefiting from such programs, and it may be years before the Pamunkey are able to construct buildings they’re provided funding for, such as a health clinic. However, Brown said the Pamunkey are eligible to use facilities and services at the reservations of other federally recognized tribes.

Brown also quelled suspicions by many that the Pamunkey were planning to build a casino, which is permitted under full recognition.

“Look around,” Brown said gesturing to the line of trees and rows of crops that make up a sizable portion of land on the reservation. “There’s no place for a casino here.” Brown also said the Pamunkey hired a consultant to examine whether or not the reservation’s thoroughfares could handle the traffic a casino would undoubtedly bring. It was determined the investment from reconstructing roads and building a casino would not be feasible.

Gray said as much, saying the Pamunkey lack the infrastructure for a casino.

“We want to modernize, yes, but we’re country people and we like it that way,” Gray said. “For the long term we’re looking for options that benefit the tribe and allow us to be an independent sovereign nation. There’s a multitude of paths we can take but a casino is not one of them.”

“More than anything being recognized is historic vindication,” Brown said.

“Virginia tried to write us out, and this decision vindicates not only the Pamunkey, but every tribe that made up the Powhatan Confederacy. It gives our people legitimacy and it will benefit them down the road.”

When asked about the relevance of the decision coinciding with Independence Day, Brown chuckled.

“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said. “I guess maybe there’s a little bit of poetic justice there.”

McMillan can be reached by phone at 757-298-4136.


30-year struggle

•1982: The Pamunkey Indian tribe applies for full federal recognition.

•2009: The Pamunkey file a letter of intent to petition the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition.

•August 2012: The BIA issues the Pamunkey “active consideration” for full recognition.

•January 2014: The Pamunkey earn preliminary federal recognition.

•January 2015: The Congressional Black Caucus asks the BIA to delay the decision and investigate the Pamunkey for discriminatory practices.

•March 2015: The BIA extends its deadline for a final determination on federal recognition of the Pamunkey.

•July 2, 2015: The Pamunkey become the first federally recognized tribe in the commonwealth of Virginia.

– See more at: http://www.tidewaterreview.com/news/va-tr-kw-pamunkey-0708-20150707-22,0,923109,full.story#sthash.Lsp8Jnwa.dpuf


Connecticut officials praise changes on tribal recognition

By Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut’s top elected leaders are declaring victory in their efforts to see that it does not become easier for local American Indian tribes to obtain federal recognition.

President Barack Obama‘s administration on Monday issued changes to regulations that have been criticized as cumbersome and lacking transparency. Proposed new rules that were first issued in draft form two years ago were seen by officials in Connecticut as clearing the way for three groups that previously had been denied federal recognition to win the prized status.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, said at a news conference Monday afternoon that revisions in the final version will prevent those groups from winning recognition and pressing claims for surrounding lands.

“I would like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for heeding our concerns,” Malloy said.

He said the changes ensure that groups in Connecticut that already have fallen short of recognition will be blocked from another attempt.

Connecticut has two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, which own the country’s two largest Indian-owned casinos in the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

The changes that were initially proposed were seen as benefiting three other Connecticut tribes — the Schaghticokes of Kent, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull and Colchester and the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington. Federal acknowledgment can bolster a tribe’s claims to surrounding land, eliminate regulatory barriers to commercial development and bring increased health and education benefits to members.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they were pleased the Bureau of Indian Affairs reversed course on a plan that would have given another chance to previously denied petitioners.

“That severely flawed proposal would have forced residents, communities and the state to re-litigate petitions already dismissed with substantial evidence and review — causing needless uncertainty for landowners whose properties may have been claimed as reservation land,” they said.

Leaders of the tribal groups that had been hoping for a new path to recognition did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Law Firm Gifts $3.5M to Tribal Health

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA- Anchorage

A national law firm that specializes in Indian law is donating $3.5 million to improve medical care for tribal members. The decision comes after the firm, which has offices in Anchorage, helped win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving hundreds of millions of dollars for tribal health organizations.

The law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson last year was one of the law firms that successfully fought for back payments to tribes from the Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Attorney Lloyd Miller, a partner in the firm, says the firm wanted to give back to Indian Country, and recognizes the firm’s 40-year anniversary:

“We wanted to give back to Indian Country,” said Miller. “And since so much of our work involves health care issues, we wanted to focus our charitable contribution program on improving health care facilities, either entire clinics or acquisition of critical equipment such as cat scans, MRI machines and the like.”

Four-hundred-fifty thousand dollars each is going to the statewide Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for patient housing, and to the Anchorage-based Southcentral Foundation for construction of a behavioral health clinic. Last year, ANTHC was paid $153 million for contract support costs, or overhead, that had been in litigation since 1990. Southcentral was awarded $96 million. Miller says $200,000 each is going to the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw nations:

“For the most part we’re working with tribes we know very well,” said Miller. “Tribes we’ve had a relationship with since the firm’s founding, in the case of some of the tribes we’ve worked with for 40 years.”

Miller says he hopes their donation will inspire other companies that work with tribes on self governance in health:

“We encourage them to come up with matching funds so that the tribes can do more for their people.”

Miller says in the coming year, the firm will be working on grants to other tribes in Oklahoma, and in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.

Area Southern Cherokees seek federal recognition

After 12 years of research and documentation on their rich cultural heritage, a group of local Southern Cherokee Indians recently mailed three boxes full of paperwork to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

SubmittedMembers of the Southern Cherokee tribe recently mailed the first of two shipments of documentation to the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs in an effort to be re-recognized as a federal Indian tribe. Front row, from left, are Herman Paul, Darla Matthews and Chuck Wilcox. Back row, from left, are Karen Paul, Bill Tyler, Johnnie Gray and Steve Matthews.
Members of the Southern Cherokee tribe recently mailed the first of two shipments of documentation to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs in an effort to be re-recognized as a federal Indian tribe. Front row, from left, are Herman Paul, Darla Matthews and Chuck Wilcox. Back row, from left, are Karen Paul, Bill Tyler, Johnnie Gray and Steve Matthews.

By Eddie O’Neill, The Rolla Daily News

After 12 years of research and documentation on their rich cultural heritage, a group of local Southern Cherokee Indians recently mailed three boxes full of paperwork to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The boxes were sent off on May 1 in hopes that the tribe will be re-recognized by the United States government.

“We began our research at the Library of Congress,” said Southern Cherokee Chief Steve Matthews. “We visited numerous historical societies, state archives and read books to make sure we got our story right. We also went through three computers in the process.”

The tribe boasts 500 members, the majority of which live in the south central Missouri region. While the group’s headquarters is in Webber Falls, Oklahoma, a branch office is located in Newburg.

“We are kind of a forgotten people,” said Matthews. “We were first recognized by the government with the (Cherokee) Treaty of 1866.”

However, Matthews added, recognition by treaty did not put the tribe on the Federal Register – a directory of government-recognized U.S. Indian tribes.

The review process by the Bureau of Indian Affairs could take two years or as much of 40 years. Federal recognition will allow the local tribe to receive federal benefits which include health insurance and housing. However, Matthews told The Rolla Daily News that even more important would be the ability to pass down the tribe’s heritage to the next generation.

“We got to talking and thought how could we look at our grandchildren and say, ‘We didn’t try?'”

As Matthews and a core group of Southern Cherokees combed through genealogies and other historical records over the last decade, they discovered a lot of history they didn’t know about.

Their name comes from the fact that they fought with the South during the Civil War. After the war, the Cherokee Nation split with some staying on their land in the South, while others moved west of the Mississippi River. The Southern Cherokee eventually ended up settling in Missouri. However, they were not welcomed here.

At the time, Missouri had laws to prevent Indians from moving into or hunting in the state of Missouri without a pass from a government Indian agent. Indians could not purchase or own land in the state. The State Militia was also called out to remove Indians when they were found on white landowners’ property.

It wasn’t until 1924 when tribal Indians could vote.”Our ancestors didn’t talk about our heritage,” recalled Southern Cherokee council speaker Bill Tyler. “We were here illegally—not allowed in the state of Missouri. When we were kids, we were taught not to be seen or heard from strangers because we would be found out.”

Even as the tribe began talking about beginning the process for this federal recognition, there were some in the older generation who were leery or hesitant to “stir up the pot.”

Throughout this process, Matthews explained that local Southern Cherokees have received much support from local officials all the way up to members of Congress.

Southern Cherokee member Chuck Wilcox said that the younger generation has been interested in learning their family history and have been supportive of the application process.The tribe here in Phelps County tries to gather at least once a year.

“It’s like a family reunion,” Wilcox noted.

Over the last few years the tribe has had a float in the Celebration of Nations parade.  Wilcox said that has been a good public relations move as locals have learned that there are American Indians right here in their backyard.

“While we want to receive government  benefits,” he said, “we also want to have our kids know their family history and to educate the public on who we are.”

Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Interior release final rules regarding Osage minerals estate development

By Samantha Vicent, Tulsa World

The Bureau of Indian Affairs on Monday released their final rules that revise government regulations relating to development of the Osage Nation’s minerals estate.

BIA Director Michael Black told the Tulsa World on Friday that the release comes nearly three years after a $380 million Osage tribal trust settlement resolved litigation alleging the U.S. mismanaged the tribe’s minerals.

The new rule, which was made available for public inspection in the Federal Register that day, clears issues that Black said the Bureau and Nation couldn’t remedy through the 2011 settlement, in which a federal judge said the U.S. “grossly mismanaged” the nation’s oil and gas money.

The document says the regulations will take effect July 10, and include developing and implementing standardized reporting to manage production and accounting; improving methods for calculating quarterly oil and gas royalties for headright holders, and rental rates’ implementing technological enhancements to better manage the mineral estate; identifying best practices for development and conducting onsite inspection programs; and documenting formal communication needed to most effectively manage the mineral estate between the Osage Nation, Osage Minerals Council and the U.S.

Headrights, or mineral estate shares, were given to 2,229 Osage tribe members after the nation signed off on a 1906 Allotment Act. The Department of the Interior will now use the New York Mercantile Exchange price settlement point in Cushing to determine quarterly royalty payments.

“We do believe the rules balance the various interests of producers and service owners, and it does ensure the Osage mineral estate will be developed for the benefit of the Osage,” he said. “We’re also increasing the standards of safety.”

However, the new rules also state there may be additional upfront costs to oil and gas producers’ operations to ensure they comply with the new regulations, and that while the BIA will consult with the Osage Minerals Council about matters relating to the mineral estate, the BIA will be able to take “corrective actions” against lessees who violate the regulations up to and including terminating leases after consultation with the council. The document also lays out financial penalties for violations of lease terms and operating regulations.

Shane Matson, president of energy company Bandolier Energy LLC, works extensively in Osage County and has said few, if any, wells have been drilled there this year because the BIA has not approved permits while working on these rules and also a new environmental assessment of the county, which could take until the end of 2015 to complete. Producers in the meantime would have to complete 72-page environmental assessments on individual well sites before receiving a permit, and the Osage Minerals Council has called a proposed new permitting requirement “vague and confusing,” according to Tulsa World archives.

When asked about that issue, Black said the fluctuating economy and falling oil prices have played roles in the county’s production decline. He also emphasized surface land is owned separately from the oil and other minerals beneath, and that the BIA has been governing the county under existing regulations and will do so until the new rules take effect.

“There have been some questions with the applications for permits to drill and some of our procedures, and (the rule and permits) are two separate and distinct issues,” he said. “The rule isn’t really directly related to whether or not there is drilling going on out there.”

The Osage Producers Association and Osage Minerals Council have not yet commented on the final rule, which Black said they received over the weekend, and have publicly spoken little on the pending environmental assessment, which BIA officials previously said was in the works before a class action lawsuit was filed against the agency and oil producers last year.

But Matson said most of those who drill in the county, instead of large companies such as ExxonMobil, are simply “guys pumping our own resources in Pawhuska and Skiatook and Hominy,” and that the new regulations have the potential to negatively affect production and income due to the government agencies’ admission that additional costs could be incurred by producers.

“This business requires regulatory stability because you’re planning the deployment of millions of dollars in very complicated engineering processes,” he said, but added that producers hoped the negotiated rule-making process committee would have been more inclusive of everyone who could be affected.

That committee was comprised of four employees from federal agencies and five members of the Osage Minerals Council, a BIA spokeswoman said Friday. The Department of the Interior, in its response to comments requesting it restart the rule-making process, said it wasn’t necessary to do so because it provided “extensive opportunity” for public comments and gave notice for committee meetings at least 30 days in advance.

“The Osage Producers Association board will meet later this week to evaluate the code and determine a path for it,” Matson said.

Sioux tribes, county agree on law enforcement for Pe’ Sla

By The Associated Press

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — An agreement on law enforcement was reached Tuesday between Pennington County and four Sioux tribes that bought 3 square miles of land they consider sacred in western South Dakota’s Black Hills.

In 2012, the Great Sioux Nation raised $9 million to buy land the tribes call Pe’ Sla from private landowners. The tribes hope to put the land, also known as Reynolds Prairie, in trust with the federal government to be held on behalf of tribal members.

None of the tribes has a headquarters closer than a four-hour drive from Pe’ Sla, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1JQ1LYV ) reported. The area is used as a ceremonial site by the tribes because of its role in tribal creation stories. They also plan to reintroduce bison to the site.

If the land is put into trust, tribal jurisdiction would apply. But the agreement would allow the county, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribes to handle law enforcement. If a tribal member is cited or arrested for a crime at the site, he or she would be prosecuted in tribal court, but non-tribal members would be prosecuted in other courts belonging to the local jurisdiction.

Sheriff Kevin Thom said he has some concerns about the agreement, which he called “a little confusing, a little mushy.”

For example, it doesn’t specify which party will be responsible for transporting a tribal member who’s arrested by a county deputy at Pe’ Sla to tribal court on the Rosebud Reservation, he said. It’s also unclear if county deputies will be required to testify in tribal court, requiring them to drive several hours to the reservation, according to Thom.

“That creates some problems from an enforcement standpoint,” he said.

But county commissioners still approved the agreement with a 3-1 vote.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Connecticut presses BIA to scrap Indian recognition proposal

By Ana Radelat, The Connecticut Mirror

Washington — The administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to scrap proposed rule changes the state believes could lead to recognition of additional Indian tribes in Connecticut.

The BIA has been considering the rule changes for months. The state says the changes could open the door to large land claims and expanded Indian gaming in Connecticut. Yet Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, has said he’s determined to fix what he’s called a “broken” federal recognition process.

The federal tribal recognition rules in place require a tribe to prove its continuous community and political authority since first contact with European settlers. Washburn’s proposal would change that to allow a petitioning tribe to demonstrate it has maintained a state reservation since 1934. Washburn‘s new regulation would also allow tribes that have been denied recognition to apply again.

“The proposed rules represent a dramatic departure from the standards and process governing acknowledgment decisions for nearly 40 years,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in comments filed before a midnight deadline Tuesday. “If adopted as proposed, petitioners could gain recognition in circumstances completely at odds with fundamental principles of tribal acknowledgement. These proposals…are unjustified and should be rejected.”

A new, final Indian recognition rule will be posted within 60 days. It could be modified again based on the comments of the Malloy administration and others, including Connecticut’s tribes.

Gov. Malloy, the Connecticut congressional delegation and most of the state’s political establishment, have pushed back harder than anyone on the proposed rules, even after the BIA changed them to include a provision aimed at blocking three tribes that have long sought recognition in Connecticut — the Eastern Pequots, the Schaghticokes and possibly the Golden Hill Paugussetts.

The BIA had given the Eastern Pequot and Schanghticoke tribes acknowledgement, then withdrew it after an appeal by the state.

At the behest of Connecticut officials, the proposed rules were modified so those who opposed the tribes’ recognition previously would have veto power over a new attempt at recognition.

That infuriated Connecticut’s tribes.

“The BIA failed to consider the long, oppressive history of the state of Connecticut,” wrote Kathleen Sebastian Dring, an elder of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, in her comments to the agency.

Dring told the BIA that, “The third-party veto undermines the BIA’s attempt to create an equitable and objective process for the tribes” and was “imposed by the BIA after political pressure from Connecticut.”

“As citizens [Eastern Pequot tribal members] are entitled to the equal protection of laws in accordance to the U.S. Constitution,” Dring said.

Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation told the BIA that giving third parties the right to object to new petitions for federal acknowledgement “does not, I believe, comport with the due process and equal protection principles of our Constitution.”

“Nor does the U.S. Constitution provide that a state and its political subdivisions may exercise an absolute veto over the exercise of constitutional authority vested exclusively in the United States government,” Velky wrote.

Meanwhile, Jepsen said the veto provision isn’t a comprehensive enough protection to keep the Connecticut’s tribes from suing the state if it doesn’t  consent to recognition, and “the outcome (of the litigation) is uncertain.”

Jepsen also said he is concerned the proposed regulations wouldn’t block “splinter groups” of Indian tribes from seeking recognition.

Under the proposed rules, the Schagticoke Indian Tribe, a group of Indians that rejected the leadership of the Schagticoke Indian Nation, might be able to apply for federal acknowledgement – and since they were never denied recognition, no veto provision would apply.

Jepsen also called the proposed elimination of the Board of Indian Appeals, which allowed Connecticut to challenge the Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke recognitions “patently unfair.”

The BIA had granted a Malloy administration request for more time to submit its public comments. The deadline was pushed back from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

The entire Connecticut congressional delegation signed a letter that supported the administration’s objections to the proposed recognition rules.

“We…agree the process should be improved,” the letter said, but it recommended more transparency and perhaps a bigger budget, instead of “weakening the longstanding standards for federal recognition.”

The letter backed all of the Malloy administration’s objections and asked the BIA to eliminate the proposal that allowed rejected tribes to petition again for recognition, because the consent requirement or third-party veto, would be challenged in court.

“We note that at least one party is objecting to the consent requirement, contending it may be unconstitutional,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

In all, 255 comments were filed. Many came from tribes and most, like the comment from the National Congress of American Indians, supported Washburn’s efforts.

“Connecticut politicians and their special interests seek to derail justice for Native Americans,” said an unsigned comment. “Please don’t allow the process to become politicized by special interests BIA. Stick to what you believe is fair to Native American tribes.”

Kaine urges Bureau of Indian Affairs to be more flexible in recognizing Va. tribes

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Virginia — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine is arguing anew for federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes.

The Virginia Democrat is appealing to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the federal acknowledgement of American Indian tribes. He’s encouraging the bureau to adopt greater flexibility in its recognition process to overcome the barriers Virginia’s tribes have confronted.

One hurdle to recognition is that many of the tribes’ records were held in courthouses that were burned during the Civil War.

Kaine and Sen. Mark R. Warner introduced legislation in 2013 to grant federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes. A companion bill in the House was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

Kaine says he continues to push for passage of the legislation.

Partnerships helping rebuild Spirit Lake child protection programs

By Patrick Springer, The Jamestown Sun

FARGO — Partnerships involving the Spirit Lake Tribe, Bureau of Indian Affairs and others are credited with helping to rebuild child protection programs on the reservation.Wednesday will mark the two-year anniversary of the handover of child protection and foster care services from the Spirit Lake Tribe to the BIA.The switch, made at the prodding of the North Dakota congressional delegation, came in the midst of major gaps in the safety net for children on the reservation.Among other problems, Spirit Lake children were being placed in unsafe foster homes, and suspected abuse and neglect cases were not always investigated and followed up.The BIA continues to operate the child protection programs while the tribe delivers most other social services, although the tribe hopes someday to resume full responsibility for social services.“They’re making progress,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who noted staff vacancies still pose challenges. “Getting the right people and getting them trained is the priority.”The BIA has filled a supervisory social worker position but continues to bring in staff from other reservations to run programs. It is contracting with a firm to help maintain services until positions are permanently filled.“The contract will provide some stability there,” said Lawrence Roberts, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior for Indian Affairs, who visited Spirit Lake for 2½ days last week.“These social workers will be starting in a matter of weeks,” he said, referring to the contract workers, who first must clear a background check.Social workers are in demand throughout North Dakota, complicating the search, Roberts said.Meanwhile, the Spirit Lake tribe also is filling social services positions. It recently hired a case manager and is working to fill another case manager position, said Melissa Merrick-Brady.Candidates have been interviewed, and the position should be filled soon, and the tribe’s social services will be fully staffed, she said.“When I came, we had no case managers; we were struggling,” said Merrick-Brady, who became the tribe’s social services director in July after being appointed interim director in March. “The staff was overwhelmed, overworked.”The Department of Interior is providing a grant of almost $800,000 to bolster Spirit Lake’s tribal court and guardianship programs.The grant will pay for two guardians to represent vulnerable children, and a child service and Indian child welfare presenter to appear in court, Roberts said.The training and grants will help social services better coordinate with tribal court and guardians, and help lift some of the burden on social workers, Merrick-Brady said.The collaborative approach was highlighted last week with a symposium at Candeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, when officials laid out plans for improving services at Spirit Lake.“The discussion was extremely productive,” Roberts said. “You had all the relevant players in the room,” including the tribe, BIA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and state and local officials.“We have a lot of work to do, but I think the foundation was laid,” Roberts said.The North Dakota congressional delegation also is pursuing legislative remedies, including more stringent background checks of foster households for American Indian children.Legislation in the House and Senate would apply the same foster care standards in Indian Country that now are required elsewhere. The legislation has passed a House committee, and Hoeven expects Senate approval later this year or early next year.Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has introduced legislation to create a Commission on Native Children. If passed, she said, the bill “would help us tackle many of the challenges we’ve seen on Spirit Lake and go a long way in improving the lives of Native children.”The bill also would provide for a study into issues facing Native children, including high rates of poverty – such as unemployment, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, substance abuse and few economic opportunities – and make recommendations on how to make sure Native children are better taken care of and given the opportunities to thrive.Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., agreed that coordination among service providers at Spirit Lake has improved.“We have seen an improvement in terms of communication,” he said.